Published on December 14, 2023, 9:22 am
Establishing Malicious Intent Crucial in Prosecuting Mala Prohibita Crimes
The Supreme Court (SC) recently ruled that proving malicious intent is essential when prosecuting crimes classified as mala prohibita. These offenses are considered illegal because they are prohibited by law, although they might not necessarily be inherently immoral. In a decision released on August 30 and made public on Thursday, the SC Third Division overturned the convictions of Felix G. Valenzona, president of ALSGRO Industrial and Development Corporation. Lower courts had found Mr. Valenzona guilty of failing to register contracts to sell subdivision lots within the prescribed period, which was deemed a violation of Presidential Decree (PD) 957.
Despite PD 957 falling under the category of mala prohibita law, the High Court clarified that the prosecution still needs to demonstrate that the accused intentionally committed the prohibited act. The ruling penned by Associate Justice Alfredo Benjamin S. Caguioa stated, “Dispensing with proof of criminal intent for crimes mala prohibita does not, in any way, discharge the prosecution of its burden to show that the prohibited act was done intentionally by the accused.” It reiterated that even in offenses falling under mala prohibita, the intent to perpetrate must be proven.
The Supreme Court emphasized the distinction between “intent to commit the crime” and “intent to perpetrate the act.” For mala prohibita offenses, it is crucial to present evidence establishing an intention to perpetrate such acts. In this particular case, it was determined that the responsibility for registering contracts rested with ALSGRO’s marketing department rather than Mr. Valenzona as its president. Therefore, he was absolved of criminal intent.
“To hold Valenzona criminally liable, it must also be established that he had the volition or intent to not register or cause the non-registration of the subject contracts,” stated the Supreme Court. However, the prosecution failed to prove this, resulting in Mr. Valenzona’s exoneration.
The recent ruling by the Supreme Court provides important guidance on prosecuting mala prohibita crimes. It highlights the need to establish intentional wrongdoing and reinforces the requirement for evidence of an intent to perpetrate prohibited acts under special laws. This decision serves as an important precedent that will impact future cases involving similar offenses.
In conclusion, while crimes classified as mala prohibita may not inherently involve moral wrongdoing, proving intentional violation of the prohibition remains crucial in securing convictions. The Supreme Court’s ruling underscores the distinction between “intent to commit the crime” and “intent to perpetrate the act.” By clarifying these legal principles, the court ensures a more just application of the law and strengthens the justice system in addressing mala prohibita offenses.